The Questionable Quest To Improve Local Rice Production

It is a well known fact that Ghana has been dependent on importation of rice for 70% of local demand for a considerable time. The quest to make Ghana self-sufficient with regards to rice supply is however proving more difficult than expected.The blame for this situation is largely placed at the doors of the Bretton Woods Institutions, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, and consecutive governments.

As part of the agreement to support Ghana with development aid and loans the Bretton Woods Institutions insisted that Ghana follows a liberated trade policy that opened its doors to importation of rice from both America and Asian countries.At the same time investment in local rice production dwindled.Because imported rice was not necessarily much more expensive than locally produced rice combined with the fact that it was superior in quality and taste soon led to the situation where local production and supply fell to 30% of local demand.

In recent years a lot of emphasis was placed on moving from import dependency to self-sufficiency. As pointed out by Food Security Ghana (FSG) on many occasions this quest is very laudable and probably achievable, but that its achievement will require a lot of investment as well as patience and time.

The first major problem is that the quality of locally produced rice is inferior to the quality of imported rice. Producing more low quality rice will definitely not solve the problem but indeed worsen the situation. It is therefore not just a quest to increase yields and / or areas under cultivation, but to firstly resolve problems of quality.All international parties such as the United Nation¹s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) have been urging developing countries to drastically increase their investment in agricultural research.

As early as this year Ghana¹s Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) has lamented the fact that the budget for 2012 did not provide sufficiently towards this end. As long as this situation continues the quest to become self-sufficient in rice production will stay a pipe dream.

Another area of concern is the level of provision for investment in agriculture by developing countries. According to the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) under its Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) framework the objective is to raise agricultural productivity in Africa to at least six percent annually to contribute to poverty alleviation and elimination of hunger in Africa. In addition, CAADP requires countries to commit at least 10% of their national budgets to agriculture. Since 2003, thirty countries including Ghana have signed up to the CAADP Compact and eight have surpassed the 10 percent target.

Although Ghana claims that it is meeting the 10% guideline, the real investment is questionable as about 50% of this budget allocation is dependent on international development aid.

The CAADP programme is premised on four pillars ­ each dealing with key issues:

* Sustainable land and reliable water control systems; * Private sector development, rural infrastructure, improved trade and market access; * Increasing food supply and reducing hunger; and * Agricultural research and dissemination of agricultural technology.

Building on the above pillars Ghana developed The Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy (FASDEP II) that embodies the Government of Ghana's vision for the agriculture sector and focuses on six programmes.

The first two programmes are on food security and growth in incomes and directly support commodity growth and development interventions. Three other programme areas on market access, environmental sustainability and science and technology support the commodity interventions. A final programme on institutional coordination supports the framework for all interventions.

On paper FASDEP II looks impressive but the implementation and actual success on ground level are plagued with problems and non-performances. FASDEP II states a targeted 6% annual growth rate for agriculture and the 2012 budget exposed a massive failure in reaching this objective in 2011.

In 2012 MOFA predicted record crops due to favourable weather conditions and timely delivery on promises of support with subsidised fertilizer and mechanisation support. However, the truth will only be known when official figures are released.

Prior to 2012 the promised support either did not materialise or reached farmers too late. In addition a lot of rumours have circulated that farmers are rather selling the subsidised fertilisers to neighbouring countries at huge ³profit² margins instead of applying it to crops.

In the past massive smuggling of rice on Ghana¹s Western borders were encountered due to a massive gap between import duties in Ghana (37%) and the Ivory Coast (12.5%). The latest moves by both the Ivory Coast and Mali to temporarily suspend import duties in order to help struggling consumers has raised fears that this threat may again be repeated.

The promise by MOFA to halve rice importation by October 2012 is hanging in the balance and it looks more and more as if the 70% dependency on rice imports will continue. This will become clearer once official figures are released.

The challenges to move from rice import dependency to self-sufficiency are huge but can surely be overcome if, and only if, government takes a longer term view of achieving this. It however looks as if this issue has become a short-term obsession that threatens longer term development.

Food security and food self-sufficiency are two very different objectives. There are many countries that will never become self-sufficient in terms of certain foodstuffs and who are therefore forced to have a sensible trade policy that will ensure supply of the needed foodstuff.

When it comes to food security it is the duty of the government to balance longer term objectives with immediate and short term realities. In Ghana the consumers who are under immense pressure to make ends meet are paying the price for a situation that they did not create.

It is time that the Ghana government and for that matter many governments in developing countries come to grips with what it will take to achieve objectives and to devise a realistic transformation policy backed by action to get there. And above all it is the duty of governments to be open and transparent about this and to stop playing politics to the detriment of their citizens.

Food Security Ghana
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Food Security Ghana